Nurses and orderlies in the Laurentians are bracing for a surge in COVID-19 cases, and say their employer, the CISSS des Laurentides, is not giving them the protective equipment they need.
The union representing orderlies is taking matters into its own hands, shelling out nearly $25,000 of its own money to buy face shields for any worker who wants one.
“From the moment the employer doesn’t want to supply them, as a union we have the responsibility that our workers — who are paying dues — are well-protected,” said Steve Bouchard, vice-president of the syndicat des travailleuses et des travailleurs des Laurentides en santé et services sociaux-CSN.
The union, which also represents kitchen staff, cleaners and other support workers, ordered the 3,000 face shields from Groupe Neurones in Quebec City.
The visors are emblazoned with the union’s logo and will replace safety glasses provided by the CISSS, which Bouchard says generate too much fog.
The concerns over protective gear come as the number of seniors’ residences and long-term care facilities in the Laurentians with at least one COVID-19 case doubled in 24 hours, from five on Tuesday, to 10 on Wednesday, according to government statistics.
The unions are hoping to avoid a scenario akin to what’s happened in Montreal-area nursing homes, where large swaths of patients and staff have been infected with COVID-19, and hundreds of seniors have died.
Bouchard says it took more than two days of haggling before getting the green light to use the face shields, which are expected to arrive this week. The union can’t distribute them directly to their members — the masks will be “donated” to the CISSS, which will then give them to union members.
“It’s the whole bureaucracy of the ministry and the CISSS des Laurentides,” he said. “With the mergers it’s become so huge that no one wants to make the decision — or is capable of making the decision.”
The regional health agency’s deputy director general, Jean-Philippe Cottin, said it was a question of safety.
“We’re open to donations so long as they respect public safety standards for protection,” he said.
N95 masks too tightly rationed, nurses say
On a similar note, the local nurses’ union, the Syndicat des professionnels en soins des Laurentides-FIQ, says the CISSS is failing to supply and maintain uniforms for its members, despite an agreement with the province that requires it.
Denis Provencher, the union’s interim president, said he is worried that by having to launder their own scrubs, nurses could contaminate their families and their patients.
The union is also decrying similar inflexibility when it comes to masks, which it says are kept “under lock and key.”
Provencher says in some facilities, the distribution of N95 masks is being tightly rationed by managers, to the point where nurses have given up asking for extras when they need them.
“It’s not left up to the health-care professional’s good judgment,” he said. “They have to make a request before they get them and it’s a long, arduous process.”
Cottin acknowledges the health authority is “very vigilant” in minding the stock of protective equipment, but said there is no widespread scarcity in the region.
In recent days, the Legault government has maintained there is no shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the province.